The Brothers Karamazov
Book IX, Chapters 1-4
by Dennis Abrams
“The Start of the Official Perkhotin’s Career” “Pyotr Ilyich Perkhotin, whom we left knocking with all his might at the well-locked gates of the widow Morozov’s house, in the end, of course, was finally successful.” Pyotr Ilyich learns from Feyna about Dmitri and the pestle, and of his later return, “‘And the blood was still dripping, it kept dripping and dripping!’ Fenya exclaimed, her distraught imagination apparently having invented this horrible detail.” Pyotr Ilyich has to decide — should he go to Fyodor Pavlovich’s house and risk the ‘scandal’ of the embarrassment of finding Fyodor alive, a Fyodor who would then go around town the next day mocking the officer who had forced his way into his house to see if he had been murdered? Or…should he risk the scandal of a late night visit to Madame Khokhlakov’s to find out if she had, in fact, given Dmitri 3,000 roubles — if she had not, he would go immediately to report to the police commissioner. Pyotr Ilyich decides to visit Madame Khokhlakov — She demands to know how long she must be “tormented by that awful man,” and tells Pyotr Ilyich she believes that he had planned to murder her when he had visited. Her “extraordinary and morbid excitement” on learning of Pyotr Ilyich’s belief that Dmitri had murdered his father, her sudden belief that she had forseen it all, that it had been the hand of God that had protected her, it must have been a miracle. Madame Khokhlakov begins flirting with Pyotr Ilyich, praising him for his decision to go the police commissioner, “How resourceful you are, Pyotr Ilyich…” Her insistence that he come back to tell her what happened, no matter the hour. Pyotr Ilyich’s astonishing resourcefulness in asking Madame Khokhlakov for a letter stating that she hadn’t given Dmitri any money. Leaving Pyotr Ilyich tells himself that Madame Khokhlakov is not all that old, and “On the contrary I might have taken her for her own daughter.” The narrator-chronicler notes that he would not have gone into such detail of the encounter, “had it not afterwards served as the foundation for the whole life’s career of that precise and accurate young man…” “The Alarm” District commissioner of police, Mikhail Makarovich Makarov “was none too bright, but he did his job no worse than many others.” Among his guests that night were the prosecutor and district doctor Varinsky, “a young man who had just come to us from Petersburg;” the prosecutor Ippolit Kirillovich “the deputy prosecutor, that is, but we all called him the prosecutor…the whole trouble with his character was that he had a somewhat higher opinion of himself than his real virtues warranted,” who immediately realizes that “A case like this could become known all over Russia,” and the young district attorney, Nikolai Parfenovich Nelyudov, “who had come to our town from Petersburg only two months earlier.” When Pyotr Ilyich enters the commissioner’s house, he learns that they already know about Fyodor’s murder: Marfa, Grigory’s wife had woken up to a loud epileptic scream from Smerdyakov, discovered that Grigory was gone, went to look for him, heard groans coming from the garden, “Lord, just like with Stinking Lizaveta!” found her husband who starts muttering, “He killed…father…killed…,” Marfa sees Fyodor’s open bedroom window and looked inside, “she saw a terrible sight: the master was lying on his back on the floor, not moving. The front of his light-colored dressing gown and his white shirt were soaked with blood.” Grigory is brought home, Marfa reports what happened. The assistant police chief is ordered to round up as many as four witnesses, an investigation begins at the murder site; it is noted that the three-thousand roubles are gone. Worried by Pyotr Ilyich’s belief that Dmitri planned to commit suicide, the deputy commissioner Shermetsov is sent ahead to Mokroye to keep an eye on Dmitri. Grigory will survive, but the doctors, learning of Smerdyakov’s two days of falling sickness, state that he won’t survive until morning. “The Soul’s Journey Through Torments. The First Torment.” We jump back to the ‘present.’ “And so Mitya was sitting and staring around with wild eyes at those present, without understanding what was being said to him.” Dmitri declare hs is not guilty. “Of my father’s blood I am not guilty…I wanted to kill him, but I’m not guilty. Not me!” Grushenka tries to take the blame, “I tormented him and drove him to it!” Water for Dmitri. Dmitri declares he is guilty of other blood, “of another old man’s blood, but not my father’s. And I weep for it!” But, he acknowledges, “Who could have killed him if not me? It’s a wonder, an absurdity, an impossibility…” Dmitri’s relief when he learns that Grigory is still alive. He is resurrected. “His look was cheerful; he had quite changed, as it were, in a moment…And his whole tone had quite changed; here now sat a man once again the equal of all these men…” Dmitri’s previous relations with the prosecutor, etc. Dmitri admits he’s drunk. Should his statements be written down? The ‘wild idea’ that he killed his father. Dmitri admits he had wanted to kill him, “wanted to so many times…unfortunately, unfortunately!” “You have no right to question me about my feelings.” Dmitri is questioned about his need for 3,000 roubles. “It is a noble man you are speaking with, a most noble person, above all — do not lose sight of this — a man who has done a world of mean things, but who always and remained a most noble person, as a person, in his depths…” Dmitri’s sorrow that he hated his father so much. Grushenka weeping in the next room — Dmitri’s torment “What do you want with her? Why do you torment her? She’s innocent, innocent…” Mikhail Makarovich calms Dmitri down; Dmitri responds by calling him “an angelic soul.” Dmitri, knowing that Grushenka is being watched over, agrees to talk, “I will now open and pour out my whole soul to you, we will finish with this in a moment, finish it cheerfully — in the end we’ll have a good laugh won’t we?’ The interrogation begins again. “The Second Torment” Mutual confidentiality. Nikolai Parfenovich’s respect for the prosecutor Ippolit Kirillovich. Dmitri hates being interrupted. Why did he pawn his pistols? Dmitri acknowledges the inequality between him and his interrogators; faces the fact that he could do six months to a year in the penitentiary for assaulting Grigory. Methods of interrogation — meaningless questions followed by “Whom did you kill, whom did you rob?” Away with little details. Why did he need 3,000 roubles — Dmitri refuses to say, “I won’t tell you on principle; it’s my private life, and I will not allow you to invade my private life.” Dmitri’s right to refuse to answer questions. Dmitri’s growing exasperation and irritation. Dmitri lays out the story of the past two days of his life. Why did he pick up the pestle? Dmitri’s urge “to stand up and declare that he was not going to say another word, ‘even if you should take me out and hang me.'” Dmitri’s dream of being chased, of being afraid of someone chasing him in the darkness, looking for him, and he’s hiding from him behind a wardrobe or a door, in a humiliating way, the the someone seems to pretend he does not know where he is on purpose, “in order to torment me, in order to revel in my fear…” How can his questioners disbelieve “the noblest man, gentlemen, the noblest impulses of the soul…no! that you cannot do…you even have no right to…but –”
That was, I think, a great weekend reading…
And what particularly struck me was how funny it was, especially coming after the nearly non-stop intensity (albeit with a quick comic detour to the gold mines) of Book VII.
1. Take Chapter One for example: Pyotr Ilyich’s indecision as to which scandal would be wore — going to visit Fyodor Karamazov and finding him still alive, or visiting Madame Khokhlakov late at night. Madame Khokhlakov’s certainty that Dmitri had wanted to kill her, her brief question “Why, did he already murder someone else?” Her comment, “he even spat at me…can you imagine it?” Her vivid imagination, “…how often have I looked at that terrible man and thought: here is a man who will end up by murdering me.” Her sudden determination that she had been saved by a miracle, “but this icon and this obvious miracle with me now…” And of course, her flirtatious praise of Pyotr Ilyich, praising him for thinking of going to report the news to the police commissioner, etc. Pyotr Ilyich’s appreciation, “She’s not so old as all that…On the contrary, I might have taken her for her own daughter.” And, finally, the narrator-chronicler’s report that that evening had “served as the foundation for the whole life’s career of that precise and accurate young man [precise and accurate…love it], which is still recalled with astonishment in our town, and which we, too, shall perhaps have a special word to say [perhaps?}, once we have concluded our long story of the Karamazov brothers.” I for one can’t wait.
2. I also laughed a lot at the narrator-chronicler’s ever-so-logical explanation of how it happened that on the night of the murder, the local prosecutor, the doctor, as well as the district attorney both happened to be at the home of the district commissioner of police when news of Fyodor’s murder arose:
“Afterwards everyone talked of it and even marveled that all these persons should have come together as if on purpose, on the evening of the ‘crime,’ in the house of the executive authority. Yet it was a perfectly simple thing and happened quite naturally: it was the second day that Ippolit Kirillovich’s wife had had a toothache, and he absolutely had to flee somewhere from her groaning; as for the doctor, by his very nature he could do nothing of an evening but play cards [marvelous!]. And Nikolai Parfenovich Nelyudov had already been planning for three days to visit Mikhail Makarovich that evening, inadvertently, so to speak, in order suddenly and perfidiously to startle the older girl, Olga Mikhailovna, with the fact that he knew her secret, that he knew it was her birthday and that she had decided purposely to conceal it from our society, so as not to have to invite people for dancing.” How brilliant is that paragraph — funny, yet revealing of everyone involved.
3. And finally, I’m not sure if Dostoevsky meant this to be slightly self-referential, but I took it to be. Dmitri’s response to the question of why he needed 3,000 roubles.
“Eh, gentleman, why pick on such little things: how, when, and why, and precisely this much money and not that much, and all that claptrap…if you keep on, it’ll take you three volumes and an epilogue to cram it all in!”
Book IX, Chapter Five